Physical inactivity is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, little is known about the effects of physical activity on life expectancy with and without cardiovascular disease. Our objective was to calculate the consequences of different physical activity levels after age 50 years on total life expectancy and life expectancy with and without cardiovascular disease.
We constructed multistate life tables using data from the Framingham Heart Study to calculate the effects of 3 levels of physical activity (low, moderate, and high) among populations older than 50 years. For the life table calculations, we used hazard ratios for 3 transitions (healthy to death, healthy to disease, and disease to death) by levels of physical activity and adjusted for age, sex, smoking, any comorbidity (cancer, left ventricular hypertrophy, arthritis, diabetes, ankle edema, or pulmonary disease), and examination at start of follow-up period.
Moderate and high physical activity levels led to 1.3 and 3.7 years more in total life expectancy and 1.1 and 3.2 more years lived without cardiovascular disease, respectively, for men aged 50 years or older compared with those who maintained a low physical activity level. For women the differences were 1.5 and 3.5 years in total life expectancy and 1.3 and 3.3 more years lived free of cardiovascular disease, respectively.
Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle during adulthood not only prevents cardiovascular disease independently of other risk factors but also substantially expands the total life expectancy and the cardiovascular disease–free life expectancy for men and women. This effect is already seen at moderate levels of physical activity, and the gains in cardiovascular disease–free life expectancy are twice as large at higher activity levels.